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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

The State of the Rusty Ps

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The Rusty Ps don’t talk much about scoring a major record deal these days. “We gave up those pipe dreams long ago,” says Adam Haupt, who raps with the group under the nom de plume Phantom Channel. “Once you actually start dealing with the music industry, you see how crazy it is. So we’re not making music to try to blow up anymore; we’re making music just for the love of making it.”

But Haupt admits the band once had lofty dreams of breakthrough success. “When you put your first real album out and it gets picked up for distribution by the first label you send it to, that gets your hopes up,” Haupt says. In 2000, during a time of high interest in independent hip-hop—but before inexpensive software enabled every laptop owner to cut their own rap records—the Rusty Ps released “Tread Water,” a 12-inch featuring some fortunate friends the band made while touring: The Pharcyde’s Imani and Minneapolis’ then-burgeoning Atmosphere. The single had reach far beyond just the merch table. Thanks to the emergence of Napster and file sharing, any college student hunting down Pharcyde and Atmosphere rarities discovered the Rusty Ps.

“I think between the 12-inch and the fulllength album [Out Of Many], we probably sold between 8,000 and 10,000 units, which are amazing numbers for an independent release,” Haupt says. “We just kept selling them,” he recalls. “It was like, ‘boom, another thousand; boom, another thousand.’ We were so pumped, we started thinking, ‘Man, we’re going to be able to quit our jobs now!’ But we were just kids at the time. We didn’t understand how the business worked.”

By 2003, however, the realities of being an independent rap group caught up with the Rusty Ps. They learned that even an established name and a widespread following couldn’t guarantee financial independence. And most dispiritingly, something of a Rusty Ps backlash was brewing back home. “We later learned that people began talking about us as if we’d become too big for Milwaukee,” Haupt says. “People would just assume we weren’t interested in playing local shows; they wouldn’t even ask us.”

In response, the group recorded The Rusty Ps vs. Milwaukee, a 2005 disc that flaunted their ties to the city by featuring a guest Milwaukeean on every track. Their newest release, The Shape of Things to Come, takes the opposite approach. It was produced almost entirely in-house without a single featured guest.

“There was some talk when we were pitching the album to labels of doing a track with Slum Village or Kool G Rap,” Haupt explains. “Those are artists that we respect and everything, but even if we’d had the money in our budget for that kind of collaboration, we’d prefer it to be with someone that we know and have a connection with. We don’t want to just slap someone else’s name to our album so we can sell it.”

Haupt describes The Shape of Things to Come as a “state of the Rusty Ps” album, a showcase for the group and a preview of future directions. While past Rusty Ps records have been eclectic affairs, this one is resolutely uniform. The group sticks to what they do best: head-nodding hip-hop with crisp funk grooves.

“It’s music for people to play while cleaning their house on Saturdays,” Haupt says.

The Rusty Ps play a 10 p.m. CD release show on Friday, Feb. 29, at Stonefly Brewery with The Crest, House of M and Kid Cut Up.

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